Cynicism and Naivete in Eden

I was pleased to wake up to a kind review of Paradise Lust this morning, in The New Republic, and the reviewer’s comments about my attitude towards my subjects got me thinking.

“In her description of Sayce’s life along the Nile, [Wilensky-Lanford] is more envious than critical.” Guilty.  A semi-retired professor who gets to spend his winters floating through Egypt on a houseboat doesn’t sound too bad to me.  “Instead of condemning the pseudo-science of Eden-seekers, she takes pleasure in the quaintness of her subjects.” Guilty again. They may be incorrect, but after much research I believe their intentions were sincere, and it’s those intentions that I am interested in.

And if the reviewer feels that I “overindulge the eccentricities of these supposed scholars and scientists who… do not seem to merit the sentiment that they inspire in her,” well, okay. I don’t want to argue here, just to bring up another Paradise Lust review in The Boston Globe, which characterizes my approach to Eden-seekers quite differently.

For that reviewer, I am a cynic through and through, no sentiment or indulgence whatsoever, who is aghast that my subjects could be so pseudo-scientific:  “To Wilensky-Lanford, who has degrees in religious studies from Wesleyan University and nonfiction writing from Columbia University, there’s no question that the Bible’s book of Genesis is literature, not history. How, she wondered, could an educated person have been so naive?” According to this reading, I throw a whole bunch of facts down on the page and at the end “never does seem to grasp how an intelligent person could interpret the Bible literally.”

I submit to you, dear reader, that both reviewers are entirely correct. Your view of my attitude toward my characters depends entirely on your view of my characters themselves–who do, indeed, walk the line between credible and ridiculous. So call me Pollyanna, but I’m happy Paradise Lust can sustain both interpretations. And meanwhile of course, you can decide for yourself.


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